Punishment Doesn't Work

By Christopher Moraff / NextCity.orgImage courtesy

There’s a reason it’s called corrections and not punishment,” Rick Raemisch said. “Punishment doesn’t work.”

Raemisch, who is executive director of Colorado’s Department of Corrections and was part of a panel discussion on prison reform hosted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice earlier this year, was responding to a question on retributive incarceration. Yet, despite that simple and profound statement, since the 1960s, the U.S. criminal justice system has taken on an increasingly Puritanical streak with mandatory minimum sentences, dozens of new classes of felony, and repeat offender laws.

Now, as part of an effort to reverse more than four decades of broken prison policy, several states are beginning to look overseas for alternative models.

In February 2013 (a year before Raemisch took over his position), his predecessor, Tom Clements, joined delegations from Pennsylvania and Georgia on a fact-finding trip to Germany and the Netherlands sponsored by the Vera Institute of Justice. Both countries have largely replaced retributive and deterrence models with one whose primary goal is reintegrating inmates back into society as law-abiding citizens.

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Slowly Closing the Gates: A State-by-State Assessment of Recent Prison Closures

By Christopher Petrella and Alex Friedmann

After nearly 40 years of unprecedented growth, our nation’s expanding prison population has finally begun to sputter. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2010 marked the first year since 1972 in which, taken together, state and federal correctional populations declined slightly – a trend that continued in 2011.

This modest reduction reflects revisions to draconian drug laws (particularly in New York and Florida), curtailing re-incarceration for technical parole violators, and the burgeoning implementation of “good time” early-release credits. As a result, 15 states have closed 35 adult correctional facilities over the last two years, according to the National Conference of State Legislators, while additional closures are pending in 2013.

Although prison closures are widely celebrated by prisoners and criminal justice reform activists alike, the implementation of such plans is rarely straightforward and often encounters opposition from local communities, prison guard unions and lawmakers in the districts where facilities are slated to close. If achieved, prison closures are usually piecemeal and result in the transfer of prisoners to other facilities, not additional releases. Similarly, prison employees displaced by closures are often absorbed by other facilities, not fired. The predictable tumult resulting from actual and proposed prison closures reflects the competing and contradictory interests held by various stakeholders involved in the process.

Despite signaling a hopeful interruption in the business-as-usual crime and punishment mania that has characterized U.S. penal policy for the past half-century, it’s possible to argue that the increasing number of prison closures represents just as much an experiment in budget-cutting in the short term as it does in durable criminal justice reform over the long term.

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Inmate Financial Responsibility Program: Shifting the Burden of Crime to the Families of Inmates

By Christopher Zoukis

On the first of every month, Mary B., a 72 year old retired state worker, mails off a $200 check to ensure the safety of her son, who is imprisoned in Virginia.  She’s been doing so since 2007, when her son was sentenced in federal court to 15 years, after pleading guilty to a series of drug-fueled bank robberies.  While Mary lives on a fixed income that doesn’t leave much money to play with, she says she is afraid of what will happen to her son if she were to stop sending the money.  “I just want to make sure he’s safe,” she says.

Anyone familiar with the world of prison knows that Mary’s predicament is one that occurs often in some prisons: family members on the outside, paying extortion to protect loved ones inside the walls.  In some countries, “protection money” is virtually automatic.  In American prisons, gangs routinely extort fellow prisoners who must “pay to stay.”  But the shakedown facing Mary and her son isn’t being perpetrated by a prison gang; it’s being committed by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

That’s right: the Federal Bureau of Prisons routinely extracts funds from the family members of prisoners, who can face hardship consequences if they are unwilling, or unable, to make monetary payments demanded by prison staff under the BOP’s “Inmate Financial Responsibility Program” (IFRP).

The IFRP is intended to “encourage” federal prisoners who own financial obligations, i.e., fines, restitution, etc., to “voluntarily” pay down their debt while they are incarcerated.  Governed by a Federal Bureau of Prisons Policy Statement (Program Statement 5380.08) and federal regulations, 28 C.F.R. § 545.10 {et seq.}, the IFRP allows local staff to set a payment schedule to “help the inmate develop a financial plan” that is “commensurate with [the prisoner’s] ability to pay.” 28 C.F.R. § 545.11(a).

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Maryland: Registry Changes

By Aaron C. Davis

Maryland officials in recent weeks quietly removed the mug  shot of convicted child molester Robert M. Haines Jr. from the state’s  sex-offender registry.

They also deleted the Internet link to the former  middle school teacher’s guilty plea to charges he abused a 13-year-old student  decades ago. Haines’s physical description, the address of the cottage he lives  in near Annapolis, the make and model of the car he drives: Everything the state  had tracked for years to keep him from anonymity was erased.

Haines was  removed not because he was exonerated of his crime. His information was taken  down because of a recent ruling by the state’s Court of Appeals declaring  sex-offender registration unconstitutional punishment for those who committed  crimes before the registry began in 1995.

Under the ruling, Haines may be  the first of almost one in four registered sex offenders who Maryland could be  forced to scrub from its online database. Maryland officials are now bracing for  the possibility that a wave of lawsuits following his case could require the  state to delist roughly 1,800 of its 8,000 registered sex offenders, state  records, e-mails and interviews show. State officials say they’ll forcefully  challenge each suit.

And the fallout could go further. The state’s  second-highest court is now weighing whether the Haines case should be applied  to a broader group, beginning with a Montgomery County man who pleaded guilty in  2001 to preying on a 12-year-old Pennsylvania girl over the  Internet.

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Maybe Death Is Better

Shortly after her conviction on a capital murder charge for killing her lover, TruTV obsession Jodi Arias released a statement in which she said she’d rather die now than face a long stretch of imprisonment, probably for life.  She’s 32 years old.  In today’s climate of prisoner warehousing, control units and barely existent medical care,

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